Eclipse d20 – Examining Corruption and Specialization

And today it is a question that actually gets into the roots of one of Eclipse’s major mechanics – Corruption and Specialization. Thus it’s answer is a lot more general than you’d think, and worth presenting as an article.

The original question was focused on the various class builds for the Book Of Nine Swords. Those include a very general power suite, bound by a long list of limitations that Specialized and Corrupted the package to increase its effects (rather than reducing the cost, or modifying them in some other way, or some combination thereof) and to duplicate the various limitations of the original classes.

Those limitations are:

  • All the effects must adhere to a narrow set of themes, and must build on previous abilities in the same theme.
  • All effects must be tactical-combat oriented.
  • The user can only create a limited number of effects, and must purchase those for 1 CP each – although he or she may trade out a limited number of them for other effects later on.
  • The user may only have one-half (rounded up) of those effects available at any one time, and must spend some time out of combat to change which ones are available.
  • The user must ready abilities from his or her available subset before they can be used and, once one has been used, must ready it again before it can be used again. This can be partially bypassed, allowing the character to ready a group of maneuvers at one time for +1 CP per additional maneuver which can be readied at a time. It can also be entirely bypassed for a given maneuver (these are usually known as “Stances”) by spending +2 CP on it, for a total of three.
  • Maneuvers can be readied by any one of many different processes – such as by taking a full round action to ready one again (typical of the Swordsage), by random selection during each round of combat (typical of the Crusader), or by whatever mechanism the game master decides is acceptable for a given character.
  • The user must meet the minimum level requirements to use any given effect. That’s a standard restriction, but it’s always worth noting.

Jirachi’s question was basically “Which bit(s) make it Corrupted and which bit(s) make it Specialized? You once corrupted a ‘create any spell’ power to the wizard/sorcerer list, so I would assume that the rest (aside from the ‘limited set of themes’ creates the specialization? Knowing would make it much easier to create new restrictions to fit“.

That is a pretty reasonable question – but it gets at the heart of why Eclipse doesn’t include a list of plug-them-in Specializations and Corruptions. Instead it leaves the ultimate call up to whoever is running the game. The idea, after all, is simply that a “Corrupted” power is awkward to use, or places mild restraints on the character. A “Specialized” one has major restrictions on its use or places a serious burden on the character.

But what is “Specialized” and what is “Corrupted” will vary from game to game and with what is being modified. There’s really no way around that no matter how annoying leaving it up to the game master can be; it’s one of the ways Eclipse is set up to adapt to a given setting

As an example…

Do you have a set of dark and terrible powers that will only work in the depths of the night under the light of the full moon?

With many powers and settings that would probably be “Specialized” AND “Corrupted”. After all, the full moon is only for three days per month, and the “depths of the night” only averages about eight hours a day! If this is an NPC, you just make sure to confront him or her when his or her power is not at its peak!

But what if – instead of being a set of conventional abilities intended for use in a fight – those dark and terrible powers are ways to curse the land until the curse is lifted? Or dread rituals with year-long effects that you only need to perform once a year to keep their benefits? Now those two conditions aren’t much of a restraint at all are they? They might count as a Corruption if there are reasonably easy ways to negate the effects of your rituals and so leave you without their benefits for most of a month on occasion, but if that isn’t likely to happen… then those conditions are really nothing more than flavor text. You might still get to count them as a Disadvantage – gaining 3 CP for including that interesting bit of flavor in your writeup – but your choice of disadvantages is not a big deal; they are designed to be a small and limited reward for adding some flavor to your character in any case.

The same goes for it being a way to open gates between worlds to go on epic adventures, or if it’s the only locally-available Resurrection power, or it’s when you can see into the future and utter prophecies about events coming up during the next millennium. “You have to wait a bit” isn’t that big a restriction on something you only want to use on very special occasions.

As for why it might vary based on the campaign, lets consider a few of the possibilities there.

What if the campaign is set entirely in the Evernight, a dimension of eternal darkness and twisted black forests beneath the distant stars and a perpetual full moon? A dread place where lycanthropes and undead reign supreme, conducting a shadow war over who gets to prey on the trembling human population?

Unless you interpret “under the light of the full moon” as requiring that you be under an open sky rather than in a building or beneath a forest canopy, we’re back to flavor text again.

Does the setting feature a slowly-rotating world with six weeks of overheated daylight beneath the red sun and six weeks of frigid darkness beneath the full moon as its “day” and “night”? Well, you’ll try to make sure that all your activities take place during the night weeks so as to have the full use of your powers and the game master will throw out stuff that you have to take care of during the daylight weeks – and so your power will be restricted, but still useful more often than not. That’s pretty much the definition of a Corrupted power.

Are they combat powers, but ones that you can store, so that you can actually use them anytime, but can only restock your magical arsenal on three nights a month? Well, that’s a bit limiting – but you probably went for “increased effect” so that you’d have a set of trump cards up your sleeve. That’s probably “Specialized”. It WILL drastically limit your use of those powers, but if you’re sensible about using them, they will be there when you really need them.

So, depending on the setting and the powers… exactly the same set of limitations could be anything from “Specialized and Corrupted” to “Mere flavor text, no modifier”.

Admittedly those are some rather extreme examples – but it’s yet another reason why, when designing an Eclipse character, you need a strong concept and you need to work with the game master. If you’re lucky… the restrictions you wanted to apply to your powers to fit your character concept will be worth more than you think.

In fact, that’s actually pretty common. Most GM’s are quite happy to reward and encourage players who come up with interesting characters rather than optimized chess pieces.

This is also why Eclipse characters are fairly easy to shift between games – but it’s a lot like porting a 3.5 character over to a Pathfinder game; you’ll need to adjust for powers that are cheaper, more expensive, or disallowed in the new setting.

When it comes to the sample characters, the ones which are really generic – like the various “class” builds as opposed to the builds made for specific settings – are often over-limited. They have more restrictions than they really need to have because they need to fit into any campaign and the setting, or their specific power choices, might make some of those limitations irrelevant.

Now as for WHY Eclipse was set up that way… the biggest influence was probably early editions of Champions (now known as the Hero System). It included long lists of modifiers that could increase or decrease the cost of powers while altering how they worked in various ways – and one of the big features / bugs (depending on who was looking) of generating characters was hunting for ways to apply “limitations” to your abilities that didn’t actually limit you (whether that was due to being irrelevant to the setting or how you were actually using the power) or which left the game master with a choice between taking you out of action for the evening or letting you get away with stuff. (Most let you get away with it, because having you sit at the table yawning and interrupting with small talk because you had nothing to do was even worse).

Now, admittedly I had fun making such characters too – but making nigh-invincible characters on a handful of points was very bad for the actual play of the game.

Thus Eclipse cost modifiers / power multipliers are rated by the game master rather than coming as a set list. The game master is unlikely to be perfect – but he or she knows the setting and can talk to the player about what he or she has in mind. That puts the local game master way ahead of me when it comes to pretty much any local campaign.

3 Responses

  1. I admit it isn’t very clear how this applies to the question, though it is an interesting investigation.
    Perhaps a more fitting and practical question is ‘If you had to design something resembling the nine swords classes, but were only given the flavour text, what would be the limitations?’
    Also, on the book of nine swords stuff, I am curious if the disciplines could be sensibly bought as skill tricks, with the immunity to limitations, and perhaps some extra limits from the book to increase effect to what is seen.

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